Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dear Florence

I’ve never been a very good blogger, and I suppose I partly use the excuse that so much of my working day is spent writing that I run out of steam for personal projects.

Alcalde with his trainer and biggest fan
The other reason for the recent absence, as when Panto was ill, is that I find it really hard to write about goings-on here in sad times. Since Alcalde’s death on Sunday, 10 March, each time I’ve thought about trying to convey what he meant to us the tears have come but the words have not.

Words are never really enough to describe horses properly. There’s a piece in this month’s Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder on Highclere Thoroughbred Racing in which John Warren talks about his methods at the sales for viewing and selecting yearlings. He says he likes to see them stood up for him properly so he can get a good mental snapshot of each horse. I rather like the idea of this and I know exactly what he means.

We live above ‘the shop’ here so I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the horses we are fortunate enough to own ourselves and look after and train for other people are an extension of our family. I have a clear mental image of each one – not just of the way they look but of their habits too.

When I think about Alcalde, my happiest memories of him were the times when John used to spoil him by letting him wander around the yard on his own after he’d been ridden. When he first came here he didn’t cope very well with being turned out with the others – I think he just wasn’t used to it and although he was a big horse he had quite a timid, almost apologetic nature. He enjoyed it eventually but to get him used to the routine here and knowing he was a well-behaved boy he was allowed to roam the yard (gates closed, of course) picking grass in the middle, sometimes with his friend Ex Con. He had a habit of walking about with his head on one side, almost as if he was listening for something, and occasionally would break into a few strides of trot, tossing his head, enjoying his new-found freedom.

Alcalde and First Pressing on holiday at Colton Farm
I won't go over the details of his last day. They are on John’s blog and the memory of it is still too awful. It always will be. But I had to pay him some final tribute, as inadequate as it may be for all the happiness his presence here brought us. Rest in peace, dear friend.

As ever in racing (and perhaps in life) it seems that when something or someone is taken away, something is given back. Less than 24 hours after we lost Alcalde, news came that Desiree had safely delivered her fifth foal and her first filly.

This beautiful little creature was conceived at Lanwades Stud where Alcalde was born, her sire Archipenko standing alongside Alcalde’s sire Hernando, who also died earlier this month. Every new foal is a gift and this one somehow felt even more special for timing her arrival to bring a spark of joy at such a sad time.

Dear Florence, six days old
Just after Easter in 2007 my beloved grandmother Florence Annie Barnes died at the age of 86. Being fair-minded and devoted to her eight grandchildren, she left each of us some money in her will. I imagine my sisters and cousins have invested theirs more wisely. Her kind legacy to me was, I’m almost ashamed to say, spent on having Desiree covered for the first time by Sulamani. The result of that mating was Oscar, who is now five and has given me endless pleasure since before he was even born, as have his brothers Jack and Delatite and now his sister, named Florence in honour of the wonderful person who helped to make their existence possible.

The real Florence was never actually known as Florence but was always called ‘Nancy’ or ‘Nan’ by her many friends. She hated the name Florence but I loved it, and being the first of her grandchildren and very spoilt by her, I always got away with calling her by her real name as she feigned being cross with me. I was lucky to have her as a major part of my life for almost 38 years. She was the epitome of what every grandparent should be: kind and indulgent. Her final indulgence on my behalf has brought more happiness than she would have believed possible – I only wish she could be here for me to tell her that.

As plain ‘Florence’ is already taken on the list of racehorse names, our new filly will race as ‘Dear Florence’. She is the beginning of the thank-you letter I am unable to send.


bigalp said...

That's a from the heart story, brought a tear to my eye.

bigalp said...

That's a from the heart story, brought a tear to my eye.